There was no other film this year that I was more excited about than Boyhood.
Partly because the idea was truly original: a film made over the course of 12 years, in which the protagonist, a boy called Mason, played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, grows from child to man in front of us, capturing the highs and lows of growing up along the way. Mostly however, because this was the new film by Richard Linklater, one of the most daring filmmakers working today.
From the spellbinding Before trilogy, which looks at a couple over the course of three decades, to the weird and wonderful animated films A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, Linklater is a director who pushes boundaries and shows us things we haven’t seen before. Boyhood seems to represent his greatest experiment yet, but I was worried that the film wouldn’t live up to my very high expectations. The last film I was as hyped to see was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and it pained me to say that I found it vague and impenetrable.
Linklater is a director who pushes boundaries and shows us things we haven’t seen before.
It gives me great pleasure to announce then, that Boyhood does not disappoint. It’s a breathtaking achievement of Linklater’s part. He seamlessly ties in all the years together, so much so that, like life, you are never aware that the character is aging. It blends together beautifully. Neither does it feel episodic, which is pretty remarkable considering the way it was made. It’s true there’s not one main plot so to speak, yet that is sort of the point. Life doesn’t have one main plot but a series of moments that memory melds together.
Boyhood captures those moments with a great sense of honesty and observation. It doesn’t feel so much like a film but an experience. Don’t think that means this is some existential bit of abstract video-art. It’s very accessible, and enjoyable, filled with wit and heart. Like the Before trilogy I felt I was there, existing alongside these characters, and didn’t want it to end. You know a film is working when you find yourself afraid of the end credits appearing.
…a great sense of honesty and observation.
Of course the key to realism is not just Linklater’s screenplay or the twelve year production time, but the actors who bring it to life, and the cast are great, especially Patricia Arquette as Mason’s mother, Marco Perella as her alcoholic stepfather, and above all Ethan Hawke, as the cool yet largely absent father. Hawke is a fantastic actor, perhaps one of the most underrated actors working today, and is always worth watching, even in recent horror tosh like Sinister. He is at his best, however, in Linklater’s world. They have collaborated seven times before, most notably in the Before films, and, as in those, Hawke’s performance is charming, nuanced and very believable.
Hopefully this film will still be remembered by the Academy Awards come March, where, if there’s justice in this world, Linklater and Hawke should have a good chance of being rewarded. If I do have a criticism of the film, it’s with the boy himself, Ellar Coltrane. As a young child he’s great, but when he becomes a young adult he lacks charisma. I suppose that’s the risk of casting a five-year-old; you don’t know how they’ll be when they grow up. That’s not to say he isn’t believable, just not magnetic. It could be said that makes the film more believable, since many young adults are somewhat introverted, but there’s an odd feeling coming out of the film, that I knew his parents better than I did him. Interestingly, at the end Mason, aged eighteen, has the same hairstyle and facial hair as Hawke’s character in Before Sunrise. Perhaps Linklater wants us to think of the two films being connected. What I thought was “He’s no Ethan Hawke”.